10/23/2018 by Carney Sandoe Staff |

DE&I Work at Independent Schools: A Head’s Perspective

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Diversity, equity, and inclusion work is becoming a hot button topic within the independent school world. We've written blog posts about it, we attend conferences on it and hold our own conference each year around it, we regularly chat with schools about their own practices, and we're building a team of DE&I experts so we can better serve our schools while educating ourselves at the same time.

Recently, CS&A welcomed Lawrence Alexander as a new Associate with our Search and Consulting Group. Lawrence has served as Director of College Counseling at the While Mountain School in New Hampshire since 2016 and most recently as the school’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion. He will continue in his roles at White Mountain while also working closely with our Search Group to recruit and place diverse school leaders and assist in planning our FORUM/Diversity event this January.

As Director of Diversity and Inclusion at White Mountain, Lawrence leads the D&I steering committee, advises the Diversity Club and Students of Color affinity group, and supports the school's participation at NAIS' People Of Color Conference. The school is moving in a great direction under his guidance, and other schools are utilizing his good work to begin work of their own.

Lawrence is currently engaged in a three-year project with East Woods School in Oyster Bay, New York, to train their faculty on implicit bias, work to audit their curriculum for inclusivity, and to create capacity in the student community around equity and inclusion work. Head of School Laura Kang is spearheading the initiative along with support from their board and a key core of teachers and staff.

Laura spoke with us about her collaboration with Lawrence and shared her plans for DE&I work at East Woods School.

Laura, tell us why you've made equity and inclusion such a priority in your work?

Equity and inclusion are extremely important to the health and culture of an independent school. As Lawrence showed us with DASL statistics from NAIS, most independent schools are still not very diverse. We could throw up our hands and surrender, but Lawrence and I and others who work in this field believe that you have to start with the people you have in your school community. Otherwise, the work will never begin. I believe this work is essential to nurturing and sustaining a strong positive school culture. Also, those of us who work in independent schools are extremely focused on preparing all our students for life beyond our schools. The demographics of our country have shifted, as we all knew they would. We really don't have any good excuse to avoid doing this work right now. It's our responsibility to prepare students for the world they inhabit, now and in the future.

Who are the main stakeholders you've engaged at your school to support this work?

The main stakeholders we've engaged in this work are our board, our administrators, and our faculty and staff in Phase I. In Phase II, we'll continue the work with our curriculum (via faculty), our students, and our parents.

What are your hopes for the future of equity and inclusion at East Woods School?

My goal is that every child who enrolls at East Woods School can feel perfectly at home with a baseline understanding that this microcosm that surrounds him/her/them is fair and just. I also want all faculty and staff, board members, administrators, parents, and students to feel accepted and comfortable in their own skins in this environment. That's the only way we can do the best teaching and learning together.

What would you say to another head of school who is considering doing equity and inclusion at their school?

Don't be afraid to have to listen to some stories of past painful experiences for those who have been in your school. It's only by shining the light on these experiences that we can become better and stronger. Be prepared to listen deeply and actively. Practice empathy. Understand the issues of equity and inclusion touch everyone in your orbit and beyond it. And, although you may not have a highly diverse faculty or student body, don't wait around for the perfect critical mass of diversity. Every journey begins with a first step.

Is your school embarking on DE&I work for the first time? Do you have practices that have worked successfully at your school? Let us know, we would love to feature your school on our blog.

Mark your calendars for CS&A's fifth-annual FORUM/Diversity on January 25 and 26, 2019 in Philadelphia. Registration opens in November, and you can check out our keynote speakers, as well as get an idea of what last year's event was like, on our website.

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